While at work, I felt a rush in the back of my neck/head like a fizzy drink with the start of total confusion. I went back to my desk and tried to work but was too disoriented. After several minutes, I stumbled to my manager’s office. At that time, I sat down and tried to say, “something is wrong.” That’s the moment, I realized my speech was unrecognizable.
Panic set in, my boss called 911, and within minutes the Westerville, Ohio, squad was there, taking vitals, checking my blood sugar and said we need to go. I noticed my vision in my right eye was distorted, I could only see one of the three paramedics around me. My constant thought was, “What is wrong with me?”
We departed for the 20-mile journey to Riverside Methodist Hospital, which I would now call “Hotel Riverside.” I was rushed to CAT Scan. The images were immediately reviewed on site, next came the question asking for consent to being administered a drug, t.P.A., I nodded yes. The drug was injected into my IV by Neurologist, Dr. B.J. Hicks. Within minutes my symptoms dissipated; this has been referred to as the “Lazarus Effect”. I just survived a stroke at the age of 31.
I didn’t learn the cause of the stroke until I was settled in the ICU. I was diagnosed with a Left Internal Carotid Artery Dissection (a tear in a major artery in my neck) which may had been caused by the perfect storm of untreated hypertension brought on by estrogen-based birth control, high intensity fitness, and stress from night school.
I would spend 8 days at Hotel Riverside on the journey to become therapeutic with my blood thinness levels, before I was released into my new reality.
The next year resulted in monthly ER visits to Hotel Riverside with TIA symptoms or “mini strokes.” An angiogram was ordered to see the extent of my dissection, which was bad to say the least. It formed a bulb perfect for pooling blood, a stroke survivor’s nightmare. This resulted in monthly hospital stays. The Vascular Surgeon wanted to put a stent in the next day, but I had an appointment the following week at the renowned Cleveland Clinic. My new doctor reviewed my file and stated, “we need to fix this immediately to avoid a massive stroke.” Two weeks later, almost one year to the date of my first stroke, Dr. Sunita Srivastava repaired my problem. The damaged section of my carotid artery was removed and patched with cow heart tissue. It would take almost 1 1/2 years for my artery to fully heal.
Since recovery, I have teamed up with the American Heart Association as an active volunteer and Young Professionals Board member. This group of individuals has been an invaluable resource to me providing support, education, friendship and fun.
The past year included AHA annual events like the Go Red for Women Luncheon, Heart Ball, and Central Ohio Heart Walk, but a new one was added to my resume. I was chosen to head to Washington, DC, this past October to represent the AHA and advocate to our members of Congress at AHA’s Lobby Day, “You’re the Cure on the Hill.” We discussed the following policy issues: Flavored Tobacco Products/Vaping, NIH Funding, and my favorite, Surprise Medical Billing. To say I LOVED this event, would be an understatement. I was given the opportunity to share portions of my story that were relevant to the topics at hand to REAL decision makers. I left DC feeling accomplished and with a renewed sense of purpose.
The good days now far outweigh the bad. I thank my lucky stars at where I could have been and where I am today. The last 4 years have taught me so much about myself and my support team. I believe my recovery will be indefinite, but I know I’m on the right path with my team of specialists and family by my side. I hope by hearing my story, perceptions about who can be affected by stroke will be changed. I am not a victim, but a survivor.
-Kate Mushala, Stroke Survivor